Sex Ed, Peer Education Style

Here I am, next to my friend Jenna, who is wearing a giant penis costume. I had worn said costume earlier, but I am so short that its scrotum was dragging on the ground. I imagined the awkwardness of taking the penis costume to a tailor to have it altered (Just a few inches off the shaft, please. Be careful not to damage the frenulum!) and pondered how few people ever think about shortening a penis of any sort. Better to ask my taller friend to wear it. But I digress. All this penile dress-up was to raise awareness for National Condom Day, an event pioneered by sexual health peer educators at UC Berkeley, that has now been replicated around the world.

Every February 14th, my peer education group handed out thousands of condom and lube packets, complete with how-to-put-on-a condom cards and a schedule of our week-of-sexy-workshops. We hosted sex trivia games at our tables in the center of campus, and gave away prizes like condom cases and sex toys. Even the year that it rained on us, we had a blast promoting safer sex on campus. After all, precipitation is just more lubrication, right?

Peer education is powerful. Arguably its greatest strength is that, when done well, it directly represents the needs of its community. In the literature, this is called “horizontal delivery,” which seems a rather vivid phrase. Huhuh. But with all academic seriousness, the community involvement inherent to peer education makes it far more appropriate and acceptable to audiences who might otherwise reject education about a taboo subject. The UN has abundant literature on successful examples of its implementation, since peer education has proven effective in high-income and low-income countries worldwide.

Despite my enthusiasm for peer ed, I understand why some researchers have doubts about its effectiveness. Many peer ed programs don’t solicit much input form their target audience, and very few have the funds, time, or resources to run their programs properly. In my research on the subject, what is clear above all else is that programs need better evaluation to understand what works and what doesn’t.  For what it’s worth, what I know from my own experience is that being a sexual health peer educator transformed my life, and I’m unendingly grateful for the experience. Scrotum-dragging included.

Learn about MSP posts as they happen by following us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. You can also follow Kate McCombs, the author of this post, @katecom.

About Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs, MPH is a NYC-based sex educator + blogger. She's the founder of Sex Geekdom, a global community for sex educators, researchers, and other folks who love having geeky conversations about sex.

  • http://twitter.com/foxyfolklorist Jeana Jorgensen

    Seeing Berkeley’s campus in that photo makes me nostalgic. I don’t have any recollection of the giant penis, though. I love the idea of peer education, but as you mention in your post, there are some feasibility issues to deal with as well. Does it tend to work best when there are insiders from the group who are already passionate about the subject and then brainstorm ways to get a grassroots movement going? Or can outsiders also leap into the fray?

  • Kate

    The giant penis was new that year, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember it :)

    I’ve read about both scenarios and my understanding is that both models can work, but the latter requires more initial investment and time. My suspicion would be that the former would better for long-term sustainability.